2-Stroke vs 4-Stroke Outboard Motors: Pros & Cons
Whether you’re in the market for a new or used outboard motor, you should know whether a 2-stroke or a 4-stroke engine better suits your needs.
Due to the way they’re designed, 2-stroke and 4-stroke outboards operate in slightly different ways, giving each certain advantages and disadvantages over the other. When shopping for an outboard motor, weigh up the pros and cons 2-stroke and 4-stroke outboards offer before buying. Here’s a guide to the pros and cons of both.
2-Stroke & 4-Stroke Outboards Overview
The 2-stroke engine is a relatively simple design that completes its power cycle (intake, compression, combustion, exhaust) in two strokes of the piston, which makes it very powerful. A 2-stroke engine doesn’t use valves to regulate the fuel/air intake or exhaust gas exit, so it has fewer moving parts and is smaller and lighter.
The 4-stroke engine is mechanically more complex, relying on four piston strokes to complete its power cycle, which gives it lots of torque. A 4-stroke engine uses a valve train to control intake and exhaust functions, which is more fuel efficient and produces less harmful emissions. Since the turn of the century, 4-stroke motors have been the dominant force of the outboard market.
2-Stroke Outboards Pros
The design of 2-stroke outboards tends to be less complex than that of 4-stroke engines. They use the movement of the piston to open and close the intake and exhaust ports, with no need for a valve train, and less moving parts that need servicing.
Without a cumbersome valve train, 2-stroke motors are generally smaller and lighter than 4-stroke motors. Being lighter in weight also improves the 2-stroke engine’s power-to-weight ratio, making them famous for lightning-fast acceleration and hole-shot.
Because a 2-stroke engine only uses two piston strokes to generate one revolution of crankshaft power, it generates much more power than a 4-stroke engine of the same horsepower. This gives 2-strokes better top-end speed and acceleration. 2-stroke outboards are ideal for use on smaller boats.
2-Stroke Outboards Cons
The biggest downside to 2-stroke motors is higher emissions. Due to their design, much of the engine oil is burned with the fuel and exits the engine in the form of harmful hydrocarbon emissions. Some older 2-stroke outboards no longer comply with today’s strict emissions laws and regulations.
The 2-stroke motor’s design allows unburned fuel to exit through the exhaust port and pollute the water. They generally consume more fuel than 4-strokes. Older 2-stroke motors that rely on carburetors are particularly bad for emissions and fuel economy. They’re also notorious for running poorly on idle or lower RPMs, which further increases fuel consumption.
2-strokes are generally louder than 4-strokes, and the higher pitch of the 2-stroke’s engine can make it unpleasant to hear. The lubrication system of a 2-stroke motor is less effective at protecting its moving parts, which increases the need to replace parts and reduces the motor’s longevity.
4-Stroke Outboards Pros
From a cost perspective, a 4-stroke outboard is far more fuel efficient than a 2-stroke. The fuel efficiency of a 4-stroke motor can be 50% better than that of a 2-stroke motor with the same HP.
As for environmental concerns, 4 stroke outboards produce far less harmful emissions, which can be as much as 90% cleaner than those from a similar sized 2-stroke motor. Being more fuel efficient means less fossil fuels are burned, making the 4-stroke the “greener” choice.
The lubrication system in a 4-stroke motor ensures all the moving parts are constantly bathed in oil, which greatly improves the longevity of internal parts and adds to the 4-stroke’s reliability and durability. Although a 4-stroke motor uses four piston strokes to generate one revolution of crankshaft power, it makes for a smoother-running engine that happily runs on idle or on low RPM without misfiring. It also generates more torque, making 4-stroke outboards perfect for heavier boats. They’re quieter than 2-strokes, with the lower pitch of the motor being less of a nuisance.
4-Stroke Outboards Cons
The mechanical design of a 4-stroke motor, complete with valve train and oil system, makes it larger and heavier than a 2-stroke with a comparable HP. This compromises acceleration and puts a cap on its ultimate top-end speed.
Being heavier and more cumbersome could make a 4-stroke outboard incompatible with smaller boats better served by a lightweight 2-stroke engine. The 4-stroke motor’s lubrication system requires periodic maintenance, including replacing the oil and filter, whereas a 2-stroke engine simply requires a full tank of oil. The more complex system of a 4-stroke also needs regular maintenance, since more moving parts mean more potential repairs.
2-Stroke Outboard vs. 4-Stroke Outboard Final Word
The pros and cons of 2-stroke and 4-stroke outboards might seem straightforward, but the technologies behind both engine types are very advanced these days.
Outboard manufacturers have developed new systems to close the gap to the point that the performance characteristics of 2-stroke and 4-stroke outboards are very similar. So as with any major purchase, it’s best to do your research before buying.